If ever we doubted the importance of social interaction, then the last five months of pandemic living has highlighted our basic need to connect and meet with others. From the grim early days of isolation within our houses, we’ve slowly stepped back out towards our more social selves. But we’re still a long way from what we once knew, and inviting a group of friends round for a meal in our homes is just part of our dream of a future recovery that allows us to return to a normality close to what we once enjoyed.
Even if the heatwave of the last couple of days – at least in London – has been a bit of a challenge, then overall the months of the pandemic have seen kind weather that’s allowed more outdoor living than we British might normally expect. People no longer talk about friends and family coming round for lunch or dinner – they now come for drinks in the garden (if we’re lucky enough to have one) or gather on open green spaces.
My friend Di’s new book, A Foodie Afloat, has just been published. A lot of the usual publicity that accompanies the publication of a book has had to be scrapped amid pandemic restrictions, but inviting Di and her husband Tam round to my garden for drinks and ‘nibbles’ seemed a good alternative way to celebrate. It also gave me the perfect excuse to buy some nice champagne …
Di and Tam lived and worked on UK waterways most of their lives before spending the last 20 years exploring the rivers and canals of northern Europe on their barge Friesland. They love ‘the sedate way in which we negotiate the landscape’ and journeys that are ‘waymarked by the people we meet and defined by the food and drink we discover en route’. I met Di through following her blog A Foodie Afloat a few years ago; we also discovered that when she was in UK, she lived very close to me so we met up and I’ve even visited her and Tam in their Burgundy home where normally – but not in this pandemic year – they spend most of their time, especially in the summer. With their barging days behind them, Di has turned A Foodie Afloat into a delightful book, full of wonderful stories about travelling along the French canals, the people they meet, things they see … and above all the food they eat. This is the perfect book for anyone who loves France, canal holidays, and good food and wine. It’s especially perfect in this year when it’s difficult to travel anywhere and many of us are staying at home: reading A Foodie Afloat is a wonderful way to travel and for a time become lost in its other world on the French canals and lazy French food.
The ‘nibbles’ I prepared were easily made. At one point I remembered making from scratch little palmiers and other small pastries for drinks, but I’ve grown lazier in recent years, though to be fair to myself, the food available to buy is so much better than it once was. The local Italian deli was closed so I couldn’t get all I’d planned, but I had jars of wonderful Seggiano and Odysea foods: gorgeous tapenade, artichoke pâté, Kalamata olives.
I’d bought a baguette from Paul bakery the day before so it would be perfect for toasting. I ‘toasted’ slices in the oven, quite thin, until they just started to brown. Then I left them to cool, making them little crostini, which I then brushed with some olive oil.
I made six slightly larger ones to top with chopped tomato, basil and baby mozzarella – a classic bruschetta. I chopped the tomatoes a little in advance, leaving them in a strainer for excess water to drain out. I seasoned with salt and pepper and some chopped fresh basil, placed them on the crostini and topped with half a baby mozzarella and a basil leaf.
As there were three of us, I made six versions of everything. One lot was simply topped with some of the excellent Odysea tapenade. Six more with thin slices of goats’ cheese and fresh peach.
Six more were smoked salmon on mascarpone cheese, topped with a tiny slice of lemon and sprinkled with black pepper. The other six were a gorgeous artichoke pâté from Seggiano.
There were bowls of taralli and Kalamata olives …
And there was the fizz of course!
Luckily it was a perfect evening to sit in the garden. It was very warm but the hot sun had retreated behind trees so we could sit outside comfortably. The plates of canapes were laid on the table, the fizz – some glorious Perrier-Jouet – was popped. And over the next two hours we enjoyed talk, some laughter, some nibbles and fizz and life felt good.
If you like to buy Di’s book you’ll find it on Amazon or click here.